2017

Last night, I went out to celebrate New Year’s Eve (I am going to sleep today) with the Anonymous Aunty and as we went chin chin, I went ‘what a year it has been!’ And what a year it has been, indeed. A year of -learning, of validation, of gratitude, of bucket loads of endurance!

Do you believe in destiny? In a pre-determined plan? In astrology-the guessing game? I, myself am not much of a believer of anything, actually! The only thing I believe is I don’t know (even when I do, it’s my all time favourite reply). But this year after spending an enormous amount of time on the road, I am turning into one.

You know, many moons ago, a few months before my brother passed over to the other side, he went to an astrologer. He was crazy about a girl, whose parents thought he wasn’t ‘well settled’ and like a lot of girls, we all know, she did not want to go against her parents. Needless, to say, our Majnu, was very tortured. So, he tried everything to get over her. Started seeing someone else ( nicer and more attractive), went into therapy, went to Malaysia to work but you know how that God forsaken useless organ works, it just wants what it wants. Ironically, his time of death (given by the hospital) and the last call he made to the love of his life, are a minute apart.

Anyway, he went to an astrologer with my Mum and when this person made his chart and mine, he wanted to meet me. At that time, I was in Pushkar and was young enough, to discard everything as rubbish. I didn’t go. His chart said there would be a death in the family before the end of January. He passed away on the 29th of Jan!

Four years later, I went to the same person and he said to me, ‘you were the only one who could have saved, him!’ Now, I am no God but the guilt of that and being at the boy’s house ( fast asleep), who was recovering from a major accident, the night my brother passed away , would have forever burdened my soul. But the no of times I got saved in those 54 days, where I was just a fraction of a second away from being hit by a truck or a bus, the number of accidents I saw on the road, just being on that trip itself, where the money appeared from to keep me moving, makes me suspect what is meant to be, will be!

That astrological chart, my brother got made for me, states that the years 2014-2017, would be some of the most trying years of my life. They were horrendous. It states from a person who is driven by emotions, I will turn into someone very practical. Sounds about right and the only person who will be able to ‘control’ me, will be my husband. Oh, hell no! Hatho ki lakeeren din bar din, badal rahee he! So, who the hell knows what all of it means! Where are we coming from and where are we going to, will forever remain a mystery to me.

Through, the lows of the previous years, I tried to learn forgiveness. But this year, I also learnt before letting new or old people back into my life, I also need to watch two things. Watch carefully, who claps when you soar and who gloats at your failures. That will just save lots of heartache. Forgive but don’t be foolish.

Other than this priceless lesson, there have been plenty. ‘ Karma doesn’t work on the whims and fancies of your reputation.’ Has this year validated me or what! I will refrain from getting into how, out of respect for all parties concerned. But let’s just say, you can lie to the whole world and it’s mother but what goes around definitely comes around! Jo karo ge, vo bharo ge!

I come from a family, where all my sisters are better educated, better looking, better human beings than I am.When I look at their lives, I wonder how our stories turned out so different and I know more than ever, it’s because of my Mother. My Mum, hasn’t taught me anything, that a woman should traditionally learn- cooking, taking care of the house and least of all playing second fiddle to a man. There are plenty of women out there, who have had the guts to fight the age all traditions and not play the conventional roles, their mothers played. But in my case, being like my Mum, teaches me to be myself. That’s a tremendous advantage. Though, it’s like having a child rather than being one, which comes with it’s own challenges and frustrations, the lesson is to appreciate her more as a human being.

An important one has been learning how to channel the angst. A yoga teacher told me when I was little, I should stop eating non vegetarian food, I have ‘too much garmi’. Before your mind goes into overdrive, he did’nt mean what you think he meant. My teachers over the years went on to call it my, ‘mental energy’ and my ‘ excessive passion’. I just call it my Mother’s genes. But whatever this surge of energy is, which takes me up and down various roller coasters, at a time, on the downside turns me into a masochist. On the upside, up until very recently, I have been unable to channel to my advantage. But I am learning and it is slowly becoming an asset more than a liability. If transformed correctly, it could turn into ‘Chardee Kala’- a state of positivity that Sikhs are expected to be in.

One of my student’s recently broke down in class, for being yelled at by her parents. ‘But Ma’am they have never said anything to me!’, she said as she wiped her tears. It’s not the first time a student has cried in front of me. Like all teachers will tell you that is the most important part of our job, to be someone they can talk to. But this just took me aback. ‘My God, how hard it’s going to be for her to get used to life,’ I thought. I remember, in that moment thanking my Mum and Dad, for all the beatings I got. It toughened me up, enormously! Our irregular, not so normal, childhoods are a blessing!

Other than the question, ‘ aap ka dharam kyaa he?’, on the road I was also asked by most of the older people I met, why I wasn’t married and then given a lecture about it. Usually, if my relatives or friend’s ask me, the standard reply is, ‘ I want a hot, 18 year old boy.’ Trust me most people just don’t say anything after that. A friend’s Mum had a funny rebuttal, ‘ beta ye to matrimonial valo ko nahin, placement valo ko bolna padega.’ Of course boys are never told that.

My relationship with men, has become like smoking. I quit both a few years ago and if I sometimes, engage with either, the next day, I realise why I quit. Men are like cigarettes, highly addictive and injurious to my health. But nevertheless, I did find the answer to the question,’ but at least tell us what kind of a man are you looking for?’ I’m sure, if you’re single, you’ve been asked that. ‘ Doesn’t it make you wonder if it’s a man or a McDonald’s meal, you’re ordering? ‘I would like a large with extra mayo!’

But I shit you not, I gave it a serious thought. This is what I came up with-‘Fearless, Fuckable and Fun.’ Doesn’t matter if he is poor or rich, unattractive or good looking, a Gavaar or well educated, I can work with all of the above. But someone who is entertaining, isn’t an imitation of most and someone who likes everything I don’t (sports, science, maths). Superficially- Age is no barrier but would prefer someone much younger or much older, would prefer someone taller ( for procreation). Most of all, someone who is not the least bit intimated by my aggression and who would take on the World for what he believes! Try giving this on Jeevan Saathi.

Over 16,700 kms of driving through this country, a total of 66 days spent on the road and one incredibly long drive from Raipur to Delhi ( by 7 a.m I fell asleep and almost drove into a tree), later, I realise it’s an incredible life and I am so blessed to be able to do what I want, when I want to. Every less fortunate person, I meet on the road makes me realize I lucked out. Gratitude, gratitude and more gratitude, is the biggest lesson.

Here we go

‘Aap Ko Dar Nahi Lagta?’, they keep asking the coward of the century. The coward smiles, ‘lagta he!’ and answers the slew of questions that follow a reply like that, all the while feeling like a hypocrite. The long list of things she’s afraid of include- even the slightest mention of ghosts, using any toilet at night that’s not her own, sometimes the dark, intimacy, that everybody she loves is going to die before her, heights, closed spaces, crowds, hurting her legs, going blind…it’s an endless list.

Chatted with a group of women from Diu, while I sat on the steps of an eatery waiting for the man of the hour, to make me his famous sandwich. They told me how green and beautiful it was. As per my plan, which you know by now, I follow to the T, not:I was supposed to be there. But my gut, which will get me killed one of these days, wanted to bring me to Chhattisgarh and since I keep feeding the beast, here I am! From Daman to Raipur according to the Baba is around 1,153 km. From Daman to Delhi is around 1, 254 kms. But Raipur to Delhi is another 1,228 kms. So effectively, my butt is screwed.

Spent the night before leaving, listening to a song from Dangal on repeat for 20 minutes, as the gaurd at the Hotel, wondered why I wasn’t stepping out of the car. ‘Kuch nikalna he gadee se madam?’ he asked. I just shook my head and kept listening. As I got off the car, I chanted ‘Sava lakh nal ikk ladava!’, all the while shitting bricks in my pant. After all, I was heading towards one of the most dangerous places in India. All the threads on the auto sites, suggested not driving at night. Apparently, the border between Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh is a bit unsafe. Self hypnosis works well on the coward!

I left Daman the day before, to drive through pothole after pothole till Dhule and then the route got better. I halted after almost 400 kms at Jalgaon. The next day, the Great Eastern Highway, made my life easier, as I drove to Raipur. The sun had set and I had still not reached the border but the route was good enough to keep going, so I did. At a particular stretch, it was like driving through the Western Ghats, greenery, the stars twinkling in the skies, a two lane highway, which was thankfully not deserted. Till Rajnandgaon there was enough vehicular movement.

Honestly, I expected some drama but nope, nothing. No searches, no cops, no check points, nothing! It was smooth sailing. Checked into a hotel and spent the day shooting. Even contemplated driving to Bastar but decided to put a lid on the adrenaline rush that courting danger gives me.

Anjuman

‘I am Anjuman. I am a mehfil, I am a gathering. Of everybody and nobody of everything and nothing. Is there anyone else you would like to invite? Everyone’s invited.’-from the ministry of utmost happiness. ‘Iss anjuman mein apko aana he bar bar.’-Umrao Jan comes to mind.

What is it about characters that live on the fringe of normalcy and society, that fascinates me I know not! With all their shades of black and grey, whether fictitious or real, they are oh so wonderful. Though, I barely get any time to read (my -7 and -8 eyes can only be strained to a point), the pages that will resonate, always do find me. Books, unlike people, find you when you’re ready.

Anyhow, the trailblazing that I am upto is going well. I drove into Indore the other day but unfortunately, as it was a Monday, most of the places I wanted to visit were closed. From there I drove to Mandu. In my early 20s, the exact opposite of my early 30’s , I surrounded myself with older men. One of the most interesting, I met at that point, who now runs a gallery in Goa, went from Delhi to Bombay via Mandu. I don’t recall what he said but I remember yearning to go. As I drove into Mandu, it was like revisiting a lover.

There are plenty of sites, which are protected by the Archeological Survey Of India. I did visit a few, the names and even the images of which will be erased from my memory, in a day or two. I’m not trying to undermine them in any way, it’s that my brain has very little storage capacity. It’s running on a 1gb pen drive, which is erased every few days. There are very few things which get automatically locked and therefore are protected from erasure.

The way a place feels, the breeze, a meeting with a random stranger, a few glimpses I take away for solitary nights, a few smiles and a few tears I leave behind for posterity. Roopmati’s Pavillion, leaves a lasting impression and makes one long for a simpler time.

Yesterday, I began my descent towards Dadra, later than I should have. It wasn’t a smart move. Though, Google baba predicted it was a 9 hour journey and Map my India, 12 hours. The latter, for a change was right. Bhai Sahab, peeth turwane ke liye, ye galiyaa aur chaubare, khuub he. Closer to Surat, the highway was a pleasure to drive on, though by that time, my feet had gone numb and my reflex actions were slower. So, I stuck to the better side of a 100 and reached Dadra at the ghastly hour of half two or was it three?

Our favourite app doesn’t come handy after twelve, so as I wandered the streets of a sleeping city, looking for a place to crash, which had it’s gates open, when a PCR that was doing it’s rounds found me. ‘Brilliant’, I thought to myself. During my last wandering, the Gujarat police searched and made a recording of my car, as if they were suspecting to find a rocket launcher. A day later, the Bomb Squad stopped me on the street. ‘Madam bag dikhao’, they said. Due to the frenzy of the crowd, at the procession of Lord Jagannath, I thought they were telling me my bag is open. I thanked them politely. ‘ Bag check karao, bomb squad se he!’. A part of me was so pissed and the other just thought, ‘well my cousins insist my children will become suicide bombers because their mother is crazy, maybe I have the vibe of a fidayen. Manisha Koirala , popped up in my head. ‘Let’s hope no Jihaadi group, thinks that!’ I thought as they searched and questioned me.

But since, I look like a woman (very rarely behave appropriately) after dark, the cops were not going to search my car but that did not quench their curiosity. So, as one feigned concern and asked me if I required any help, all the while trying to read my face and me his, two just peered and peeped into my car from all directions. ‘Akele ho?’, He asked. ‘ Nahin paltan he saath me, dikh nahi rahee,’ wanted to say my Father’s tongue. ‘ Haanji Sir’ said the adult ego state, that rarely surfaces. They stood around for a while making small talk, as I waited for the guard at the hotel, to open the gate. By that time, I just didn’t care where I crashed. As usual…the men and the streets felt unsafe when a woman loitered!

Bhopal

Though I was supposed to leave a day before, the gut said-‘ not today’. (The gut is always right, unless it is a matter of the heart and in that case it leaves it all to the head!). So I listened and left last morning. The alarm rang at some God forsaken hour, though I did haul my ass out of bed, I still only left at half seven.

After spending a couple of hours on the Yamuna Expressway, I realised that the Rs 415, you spend on the route is worthwhile. I did take the same route while returning from my last adventure but leaving Delhi at dawn, my dear, always has me grinning like a Cheshire cat. It’s freaking magical!

But the minute I got off the expressway and on to something called the Ab Road all hell broke loose. Mind you, despite the 54 days I spent driving through the best and worst highways this country has to offer, I have yet to get accustomed to traffic coming from both sides, on all the lanes of a highway. If you want to test your patience, your driving skills and your Gk of cuss words, try driving from Agra to Bhopal! Almost 13 hours later, I reached the city of lakes.

Delhi- Agra-Gwalior-Shivpuri-Guna-Bhopal route that I took, had me driving on potholes and being diverted towards villages as the Highway is under construction. The almost 800 km journey only offered some respite, when I reached a district, about a little more than a hundred kms from Bhopal called Rajgarh. Though, my butt and my back will beg to differ, the journey was worth it. Bhopal is an incredibly beautiful place, with the right mix of traditional and modern and I absolutely loved the vibe. It has one of the largest mosques in India, which I spent the afternoon debating over and the evening researching to come up with no conclusive answer. Let’s say there is a tie between the Jama Masjid, Delhi and the Taj Ul Masajid, Bhopal and thankfully we shall soon be able to put the matter to rest as the largest Mosque is being built in Kerela.

I navigated through the city painlessly today and other than a couple of fussy women I chanced upon, near a statue of our dear Mother India (yes there are those too), the people seemed open and welcoming. If you like me enjoy being a Single, Single, Tanha Begum, this is the city for you.

P.S- I still have to update all my solo dates from the previous adventure, so give this one some time.